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Nutracheck ticks all the boxes

When sizing up potential acquisition targets, Nutracheck, a subs-based diet platform, looked like a good match for Immediate Media. Food, check; subs, check; growth potential, check. Meg Carter met with Immediate’s Sean Cornwell to discuss the thinking behind the acquisition.

By Meg Carter

Nutracheck ticks all the boxes
“We can learn from the tight virtuous feedback loop they have built between users, product and customer service.”

Immediate Media Co – owner of the UK’s largest food magazines brand portfolio – has acquired Nutracheck, one of the UK’s leading subscription-based weight measurement and dietary improvement platforms. But if you think the latter will now automatically be absorbed into the former, think again. Rather, the strategy is to capitalise on the synergies of each business to accelerate the further development and growth of each, running them as separate units, says Platforms & Digital CEO Sean Cornwell. Because, the fit between the two, and the opportunity for each to benefit from lessons learned by the other, presents significant strategic potential.

“We speak to a lot of businesses and we are always thinking about who would be a good fit with Immediate Media and who would help us grow while also fitting with our current assets,” he explains. “When we met Nutracheck, we were struck early on by how good a fit they’d be, and the significant growth opportunities – for us both.”

Launched in 2005, Nutracheck – a Nottingham-based business with a staff of around 30 – is a calorie and nutrient tracking app and website that takes an evidence-based food diary approach which helps to educate the user about their dietary and exercise habits and encourages long term behaviour change for improved health and weight management.

Sean Cornwell: “It’s a continual evolution.”

It is also a highly successful digital subscription business. And while it’s not the only calorie and nutrient tracking app in the market, by focusing on accuracy, the richness of the coverage of its food database – detailing nutritional information ingredient by ingredient across a vast array of grocery products and restaurant meals which users use to check the food they are about to buy – and the quality of its presentation and production values, Nutracheck has built itself some compelling and distinctive USPs.

Launched in 2011, Immediate – mainly based in London, with a staff of 1,000+ – reaches 54 million people a month with its titles in sectors including food, gardening, children’s and entertainment, across print, digital and live events.

With one million+ active subscribers across print and digital, Immediate Media claims to be the UK’s leading publisher by subscribers. And with its acquisition of BBC Good Food Magazine in 2018, Immediate became the UK’s largest food media publisher. Its food brands also include Easy Cook and olive and, as well as print and digital, it publishes food content across social media, live events and voice platforms. The two businesses’ shared interest in food, however, was just the starting point.

Shared mission

“The people were also a good cultural fit in terms of values and culture, mission and purpose,” Cornwell says. “Nutracheck’s mission is very much about helping people make informed decisions about the food they eat, and that fits very well with what Immediate, in a broader sense, is all about: helping people do what they love every day, helping them learn and improve.” This may sound a softer concern but, more often than not, it’s soft pieces such as these that determine whether an acquisition is successful or not.

The fit also works because of Immediate’s growth engine – the quality and creativity of its content, and the connection and engagement it has with its users – and its focus now on rebalancing its portfolio to be truly digital-first.

“It’s about leveraging our content and growing our services off the back of that content in an increasingly multi-platform way,” he adds. “That means going deeper and richer into the categories in which we are already. And it means going into new categories so long as they fit and there’s a good connection with our overall purpose to help people do the things they love daily, make their lives better, learn and improve.”

Immediate can learn much from Nutracheck, Cornwell believes. Few other UK subscription businesses can rival Nutracheck’s 350,000 paying subscribers, he points out, and lessons lie in its approach and culture.

“We can learn from the tight virtuous feedback loop they have built between users, product and customer service,” he says. “We think they’ve a huge, huge opportunity in front of them – you can take the Nutracheck brand and business in lots of diff directions because it has such a strong brand identity and high levels of engagement.”

Room to expand

Growth potential lies among audiences who don’t yet know about Nutracheck – including growing its currently modest presence outside the UK. There’s also significant opportunity to expand the role Nutracheck plays guiding users towards a healthier lifestyle into other areas of paid-for health and wellbeing support.

“There’s a tonne of stuff they can do. But there’s no need to integrate them into the Immediate machine. Our intention is to let them carry on running their business by supporting them accelerate their growth and leverage audiences and research,” he says, underlining the importance of Nutracheck’s entrepreneurial spirit. “It’s always inspiring to bring on a small entrepreneurial business – it opens all team members’ eyes to the art of the possible.”

Cornwell – whose previous roles include CEO of Direct Ferries, chief digital & marketing officer of Travelex and COO of Shutl – says of his current role, which he took on in February 2021, that his remit is, at its simplest, to accelerate Immediate’s digital growth and revenues. At a higher level, however, it’s about helping to shift the business along that journey from publisher to platform. Or, “the journey towards being a multi-platform, digital-first content business”, as he puts it.

His first priority on joining Immediate was establishing a clear strategy and focus to achieve this goal, he says, and this meant ensuring it had in place the skills and capabilities to be successful. “With all these things, you build it bit by bit,” he observes. “And some of this is built organically, some by acquisition.” Which is where Nutracheck comes in: “It’s a continual evolution – a journey which is never done.”

New forms of publishing

He has also overseen a shift in mindset. “We still think of the business as a platform with content at its core and DNA,” he explains. “But we also see our business as moving away from a slightly simplistic linear publishing paid model to one with a holistic approach to content in every shape and format – print, digital, video, audio – on our own sites and, increasingly, third-party.”

Recent focus has been on building out Immediate’s skills and capabilities in ecommerce businesses and launching and strengthening traction in digital subscriptions. In the last twelve months, for example, three new digital subscription propositions – Good Food Premium, an app; HistoryExtra, the home of BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed; and an exclusive subscribers-only area of – were launched.

“We’ve grown our ecommerce businesses in lots of different shapes and sizes and built various new models around that. And we’ve pushed on in widening our content offering – doubling down on the success we’ve had over many years on audio and podcast creation,” Cornwell continues. And the Nutracheck deal fits into all this as a further step to expand their skills and offering – this time through acquisition.

“Immediate has a huge audience and large reach – our food group is the largest food platform in the UK, reaching something like 30 million uniques each month, and there is very clear cross-over between that audience and the Nutracheck audience,” he points out.

“One of our most engaged sub audiences in food is our healthy diet plan members, which number several tens of thousands and are incredibly engaged. There’s an obvious opportunity for Nutracheck to tap into that food group audience and grow its business. On the reverse, with 70% of BBC Good Food pageviews being to recipes (each of which carry calorie values) there is an opportunity to enrich that recipe offering by bringing some of the wealth of data and depth of service Nutracheck has to BBC Good Food members.”

The Nutracheck acquisition is in step with how consumer-facing content publishers are now evolving, Cornwell believes.

“Everyone out there is looking to monetise their digital audiences in ways beyond advertising. There are different models, and different publishers are following different routes – some are doubling down on ecommerce, some on affiliate ecommerce, some on subs,” he notes. “For us, it’s about having a variety of approaches which will vary by brand and audience and shift and flow with market changes.”

Advertising, for example, remains important for Immediate and continues to grow, though over time as a proportion of the overall mix, it will either remain constant or decline as other strands grow. But, he insists, that’s not a worry: “The key is to have quality content and good engagement and to keep investing and evolving both.” It’s what continues to drive advertising. And it’s what will keep growing subscriptions – even when economic times are tough.

Looking ahead, Cornwell identifies the main opportunity for publishers lying in the diversification of how people consume content – both how it’s already diversified, and how it will diversify further. This presents an opportunity to engage the audience in different ways then build new business models around that. The big challenges are how best to do this, he says, and how to survive and grow if you do not.

“Skills have an important role to play because if people are to do all this, they must adapt and evolve. For us, however, finding talent isn’t the problem – it’s an opportunity, because often the answer is already there in the organisation,” Cornwell concludes. “We’ve a lot of talent in our business and we have invested a lot in learning, development and upskilling. It’s good for our people to know they are being supported and invested in, and if it’s good for our people, it’s good for our business – we are big believers in that.”

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list to receive the magazine, please register here.